After the Reds walked off with a 4-3 victory in yesterday’s series finale with the Cardinals, I heard Lance McAlister on WLW arguing that this was a “huge” win. Initially, I was skeptical. It’s a long season; can any one game in April be all that important? But by the end of McAlister’s rant, I sort of almost partially agreed with him. Not bad for talk radio.
Ultimately, I think Lance is wrong, but he brought up some interesting points, so let’s play along for a while. Here is my interpretation and analysis of his case:
For starters, this would have been a demoralizing loss. It’s no fun to get swept at home by your rivals in the second series of the year. That’s especially true when you have your ace, Johnny Cueto, on the mound. And it’s especially especially true when the Cardinals trot out their day-game-after-a-night-game B team, giving Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman, and David Freese the day off.
And when placed in the context of people’s great expectations for this season, a demoralizing loss would have hurt even more. The Reds have great potential. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, their faces-of-the-franchise All-Stars, are locked up long-long-term. The team is loaded with young talents—Cueto, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco, Mike Leake, et al.—on the verge of either breaking out as stars or emerging as key contributors. And the franchise spent the off-season in win-now mode, trading promising prospects for a young potential ace (Mat Latos) and a dominant bullpen lefty who is now the closer (Sean Marshall). But at some point, a team’s potential has to hit the pavement, so to speak, and become performance. A loss Wednesday might have planted seeds of doubt about this team’s ability to make good on its promise. (Probably not, but bear with me.)
Lance’s best point was his simplest: Games in April are just as important as games in September. When people say “it’s early” to excuse losses, they are missing the obvious truth: Every game counts the same in the standings. You won’t have to make a late-season charge if you don’t dig yourself into a hole in the first place.
But this argument is also Lance’s undoing. If this win only counts for one, it can’t be huger than any other win. If the Reds want to play in October, they’ll need 80-some more just like it. What the “it’s early” people are really saying is that in a 162-game season, it’s best not to get too high or too low, especially when there are still 156 games remaining on the schedule. In this sense, the old take-it-one-game-at-a-time cliche turns out to the true. It just doesn’t make for very good talk radio.
(Please forgive me for writing a post based entirely on old-school sportswriting psychobabble. We’ll return to your regularly scheduled Sabermetric programming shortly.)